At long last, Francis | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Pope Francis, I thought you’d never ask about me, a lapsed marginalized Catholic; but you somehow did when you had a poll taken on what the laity thinks and how it feels about certain church teachings. Though unasked specifically, I’m happy enough to come under the category “other respondents.”


I read about it in Sony Maramba’s “Commentary” on Dec. 2 in this paper. Sony herself was obviously moved—after all, whenever before had lay opinions been sought? “Instead of the church presenting its truth on families,” Sony wrote, “it’s like the pope asking us, ‘How is it really?’ Pope Francis is seriously seeking the Sensus Fidelium (Sense of the Faithful).”


In my book, you ask, therefore you care, and not just for people like me, but for all humanity, within and outside your church. Since your election as pope to us 1.2 billion faithful of all types—occasional, lapsed, turned-away, even unfaithful—your every pronouncement and act of humility reveal yourself to us as a leader of great compassion, especially for the poor and the most needy among us.


Sony compressed the poll into 39 questions spread under nine headings, and it’s the one called “Pastoral Care In Difficult Marital Situations” I’ve chosen to focus on. Since my husband and I didn’t bother seeking a church annulment from our previous marriages before getting married again, our union, though civilly sanctioned, has remained religiously unblessed.


At any rate, we’re guiltlessly happy and cannot reconcile our situation with the wretched sinners the church bars from Holy Communion. We happen to believe in a compassionate, loving god, a god who begrudges no one’s happiness on earth. And your personal papacy, our dear Francis, somehow seems to mirror that god.


But the rabid position of some of your clergy against birth control, homosexuality, and, indeed, divorce, seems to come from the same phobia of Puritanism and other religious fundamentalism as observed by the American philosopher H.L. Mencken: “…the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.”


Unwelcome, excluded


My “sin” being irremediable by confession, and the very issue that prevents me from partaking of the Holy Eucharist, I just stopped going to Mass, whose very celebration centers on that sacrament. I felt unwelcome and excluded—like being invited to a wedding but not to the reception.


I was also brought back to that period in my life when, as a young mother, I struggled with your teachings on family planning, which not only cramped my freedom, it also didn’t seem to consider my well-being at all.


I married a medical intern at 21, and at 24, despite going on the pill immediately after each birth, I managed three childbirths. At 27, I had my youngest child in the States, came home, returned to the pill and lived with the guilt.


One Lenten season, already next in line at the confessional, I heard the Capuchin priest, in his heavy Spanish accent, shout from inside the box at his would-be penitent, who quickly stepped away and rushed out of the church. I moved to another line, as did everybody else behind me.


The Capuchin came out of the box to see for himself the vanished line. Thus was he revealed, sandals and all, and marked as the confessor to avoid. Soon after that I stopped going to confession altogether.




I stayed on the pill until my mid-30s, when I decided to have an irreversible ligation. I was on the operating table, had already been given anesthesia, when hospital nuns demanded a clearance from a priest. Someone got the piece of paper in time, somehow.


When the nun saw the signature, she rolled her eyes: she knew that, if it came at all, it would from a Jesuit—like you, Pope Francis.


There’s no point now in asking where you were when I needed you. You are here at last, refusing to judge anyone, not homosexuals, once regarded as an abomination by your church: “If he has a relationship with God, who am I to judge him?”


Your great compassion has thrown open the gates of your papacy to the bishop of Canterbury, who has claimed you as his own pope. Indeed, you are pope-at-large, spiritual leader to the world, whose compassion is simply too immense to be confined to one church.


You are living proof that God’s love goes beyond churches. You validate my happiness, my freedom and peace of mind, and my own belief that there’s not one exclusive path to God to whom nothing is impossible, indeed, that, as many paths as there are, nobody is ever left behind.


You, dear Francis, are my long-in-coming pope.


On the first day of 2014, I saw you on TV again, looking more like a priest than a pope in your simple white cassock. You were sharing the stage with a playful little boy. Indeed, everyone feels welcoming love in your embrace, whether a man with a normally repulsive skin disease or a beautiful, innocent child.


And at Mass (yes, dear Francis, I went) on Christmas Eve, by simply imagining myself like them, nestled in your compassionate embrace, I, too, received my Holy Communion.